From school pickup to school governor

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Sheun was one of the first people called to interview for the 2019 Parliamentary shadowing programme, and we were swept up in her energy, passion and belief as soon as she opened her mouth.  She has been paired with Kwasi Kwarteng MP for Spelthorne on the 2019 programme.  As she describes in her own inimitable and unique style, she has already hit the ground running on the programme as an ambassador and as a leader...

It was a beautiful afternoon.

I was working from home and had a late workout session.

You know how it is when you are home and suddenly everything had to be done now? Lol!

It was one of those days.

Then it was 3.10pm and I had to dash out to pick up my son from school.

His school, Dartford Primary School is just down my road.

If you were looking on, you would have seen a medium-sized lady dressed with her short haircut, wearing a white fitted t-shirt against sky-blue jean trousers and a pair of dark-blue Nike trainers on her feet: jogging along the road.

I got into the school just in time to see my son literarily run out of the class.

I could see he was excited about something.

He ran to me and even before I had the chance to say “hey son! what’s up”?

He greeted me: ‘Mum! good afternoon’!

He half-prostrated (We are from Nigerian descent and prostrating to greet is a sign of respect and honour to the adult you are greeting in our indigenous culture) and I hugged him.

He continued excitedly: ‘Mum, the school is looking for a new parent governor. You have to apply for it. I know you can and will love to do it’.

Me: Really? Ok, what do we need to do?

Bubu: There is a form to fill and I will collect one for you tomorrow.

Me: Awesome! How will you support me to win?

Bubu: I will help you to speak to my friends. I already told them you are an author, that you coach leadership, and love to help people to be a better version of themselves.

(Ok. Now I am looking at him and wondering where all these words were coming from?)

We got home and got into the family time ‘drill’.

Next day, picking him from school, he greeted me with the form in his hands.

LOL! This boy means business.

We had newly moved from Hornchurch into Dartford in 2016. My friends queried my choice of the new location because I was right in the thick of community development works both in Havering council (just newly approved as a youth worker with success in a new musical project we embarked on) and Barking & Dagenham Borough (where I had been supporting women in leadership).

Why would you move to a neighbourhood where you have to prove yourself all over again?

And yes, it was difficult. My first stint at community work was to push for a ‘Black history month’ event (None had ever been held in Dartford), 3years on, it’s still not been done.

Applying to become a parent governor proved to be ground-breaking for me.

I didn’t realise I would end up being the first black woman to hold the position!

The interview stage was a serious grill, yet I had great discussions with the Head-teacher and the CEO of Leigh Academy Trust during the interview.

Finally, a few days later… I got the call!!

‘’Congratulations! You have been selected as a Parent Governor for Dartford Primary Academy’’.

I was super delighted! Not just for me, but for my son who had the belief in me.

Who became my campaign manager - advocating and speaking with his friends to encourage their parents to vote for his mum because ‘my mum is not only a leader, she has written a book on leadership for girls and women ‘SUPERGirl 2 SUPERWoman: The Ultimate Guide to Female Leadership’.

It was also a great way for me to end the year (after my unsuccessful attempt to garner support of the borough to organize the first Black History Month event in October 2016).

As I resumed my role, I was introduced to the school leadership team.

I was part of different meetings including budget meetings whilst having a lot of interesting interactions with students and parents to improve the overall outlook of the school.

Then I was invited to attend the Annual Leadership Conference organized by the Trust in February 2017.

Over 1000 teachers, teaching assistants, Parent governors, Governors, etc were in attendance.

All were separated into different groups with specific sessions.

I was part of the senior leadership session bringing together governors and senior leaders from across the Trust to focus on key issues related to leadership of the trust.

So off we went into the theatre hall.

As a parent governor, I was fortunate to sit in the first 3 rows at the front. I started up conversations with quite a few of the governors who were predominantly white and male. I noticed I was almost the focal point of the room.

Then subconsciously, I took a look right behind me to survey the room.

Then a cursory look around me.

Dear reader, I was shocked to realise that I was the only brown face in the room!

This got me thinking… ‘Where are my sisters and brothers’?

I wasn’t going to let this slide.

I took a picture and right there and then…

I posted it on my facebook.

I wrote, ‘How many of my friends are school governors’? Do you know what it takes to be one?

Some replied and asked ‘What’s the big deal about being a parent governor or school governor’? What does it take? Why should I care? Etc.

To cut a long story short, I was able to pique some interest with my answers to these questions and ended up mentoring two (2) to become parent governors.

Being a parent or school governor means you get to have an input and are able to influence the shaping of the lives of our young ones from an educational stand-point.

We lose our right to complain if we do not lend our voice nor expertise to support the beautiful work being done by our educational system in the United Kingdom.

Sheun Oke

OBV 2019 Parliamentary prorammme undergraduate

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